The following is an excerpt of a longer interview, which you can view here.
Charlene Weisler: Your expansive career has seen a great amount of evolution in the cinema space.
Nick Dager: Yes. I have seen the transition in cinema from analog to digital audio, followed quickly by the transition from film editing to digital nonlinear editing. Movie projectors were beginning to evolve from large systems that delivered very little light to the powerful digital cinema projectors of today.
Around this time Texas Instruments was developing its first digital cinema chip, and I realized that with this new technology mainstream, movie theaters would no longer be limited to showing only first-run Hollywood movies. They could present a wide range of content. With that in mind, in November 2002 I started Digital Cinema Report.
CW: Is there a future for Hollywood?
ND: The easy answer is to say yes, because Hollywood has dominated the motion picture business for more than a century. But people said the same thing about Kodak and 35mm film. Digital cinema technology has changed everything, and Hollywood is at a crossroads.
To me, this era most resembles the ‘50s and ‘60s, when the studios were challenged with competing with the new medium TV. The current challenge is even more difficult because of the renaissance in great writing, acting and filmmaking that is represented in outstanding productions on cable and, increasingly, streaming.
The core movie audience has remained relatively static for more than a decade and movie theaters make 80% of their profits during 20% of their billable hours. Digital cinema technology is enabling exhibitors to try a range of non-Hollywood content to attract customers Monday through Thursday. This has included opera, live theatre, rock concerts, cartoon shows for young children, documentaries and sporting events.
CW: Movies are feeling pressure from other media forms, especially from on-demand. How do you think this will impact the film business in the long term?
ND: This is a period of experimentation in all forms of media; motion picture distribution and exhibition are not exceptions. The mainstream movie theater is being reimagined literally from the ground up.
Although, as noted above, movie theaters are experimenting with new kinds of content, they’re not interested in changing current releasing patterns. That has been an ongoing fight between the studios and exhibitors for more than fifty years.
The studios want it, and the movie theaters fear it could destroy their business. They believe they can’t survive without the traditional theatrical window of 13-17 weeks that keeps movies exclusive to theaters before they’re released to the home.
The Hollywood studios still have tremendous resources and are run by very intelligent people. Most of the corporations that run the studios already have, or are in relationships, with the major over-the-top players. Those that don’t can jump in whenever they feel it’s necessary. They might not all feel the need.
The Hollywood studios already own the world’s largest and richest libraries of content. Those libraries could be leveraged and packaged in any number of ways. In my mind, the bigger question mark for Hollywood is how they deal with the growing power of China.
CW: Looking ahead to the next three to five years, can you give me some predictions about the future of cinema and on the media in general?
ND: For as long into the future as I can reasonable foresee, people will still be enjoying entertainment in a movie theatre. Many kinds of entertainment – including movies, concerts and sporting events – are simply better on huge screens with a crowd of like-minded people. That and the simple fact of real estate: only the extremely wealthy can afford anything much larger than a ten-foot screen because they just don’t have a room big enough.
Movie theaters a decade from now will look nothing like movie theaters today. That is already starting to happen. The seating alone is undergoing a transformation. Many theaters offer quality food and drinks and even service to your seat.
The physical configuration of theaters is dramatically different. Some put screens along the sidewalls of theaters to fully immerse the audience in the action. Movie producers and advertisers are beginning to embrace the concept with new kinds of content.
The content on the screen is evolving, too. During preshows, patrons are being encouraged not just to leave their smartphones on, but to participate in a growing variety of interactive challenges, typically supported by advertisers.
A new idea from a company called CineCardz enables patrons for $20 to post a personalized greeting card on the big screen during the preshow to wish someone happy birthday or celebrate an anniversary.
One last thought. The NHK in Japan has, for years, been developing holographic projection. The results, to date, have been crude but there is evidence the concept can and will be brought to market with more work. It’s too soon to predict a Holodeck in a theater near you, but it’s safe to say it will happen.